In Brief

Madeleine McCann: phone probe 'could be key' to case

New information and 'targeted' trawl through mobile phone data raises hopes of breakthrough

THE Scotland Yard detective leading the search for Madeleine McCann says the data from thousands of mobile phones "could be" the key to solving the crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said his officers were conducting the first detailed trawl through mobile phone data from handsets used by people in the Algarve village of Praia de Luz where the British girl disappeared in 2007.

The investigation has identified 41 "persons of interest", says the Daily Telegraph. They include 15 British nationals, at least three of them newly identified since July.

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, will make a new appeal for help on the BBC's Crimewatch programme on 14 October. The broadcast will be based on "fresh, substantive" information, the BBC reports. 

Detectives hope the "mountain" of phone data will help identify the owners of thousands of handsets and build up a picture of what they were doing in the Algarve village at the time of the three-year-old's  disappearance. It is an enormous task. More than 3,000 people live in Praia de Luz and its population is swollen each year by holidaymakers and seasonal workers from around the world.

Scotland Yard is being assisted in its efforts to trace the owners of the phones by officers in 30 countries, most of them in Europe.

Redwood made it clear the phone data probe is "not just a general trawl". He described his team's efforts as "a targeted attack on that data to see if it assists us to find out what happened to Madeleine McCann at that time".

While the data may ultimately help solve the case, Redwood warned that "a lot of the focus... is not necessarily to try to find the suspect, it's trying to find witnesses".

He acknowledged that the investigation had so far been unable to link a "large number" of mobile phone numbers to owners. Complicating matters is the difficulty of tracing the owners of pay-as-you-go handsets and the fact that text messages from 2007 have expired.

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